Mindfulness Part 4: Mental Disorders

Mindfulness Part 4: Mental Disorders

Mental Disorders and Mindfulness

Taking stock of our mental wellbeing is a key facet of mindfulness. By becoming aware of any mental disorders as they develop, we can take steps to remedy the problem before it manifests fully. Mindfulness can also help to calm any anxiety.

There is evidence that emotional mental health disorders are on the rise for children and young people. We take a look at the latest statistics below, before discussing how far mindfulness can help to reduce the impact of mental ill health.

The Statistics

In November 2018, the NHS revealed a new report on the state of children’s mental health in England. The study compared new data from 2017 against earlier studies from 1999 and 2004.

The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017 report found that one in eight 5 to 19 year old children and young adults had a mental disorder. This equates to approximately four pupils in every classroom. One in twenty 5 to 19 year olds met the criteria for two or more individual mental disorders.

The two most common types of disorders were emotional disorders and behavioural disorders. One in twelve 5 to 19-year-olds had an emotional disorder (including anxiety and depression). The rate was higher in girls (10%) than boys (6.2%). Roughly one in twenty 5 to 19 year olds had a behavioural disorder, with rates higher in boys (5.8%) than girls (3.4%).

Fig. 1

MIndfulness - Mental Disorders in 5 to 19 year olds

There is a widespread perception that children today are more troubled than previous generations. The data in the survey reveals a slight increase of mental disorders over time for 5 to 15 year olds, rising from 9.7% in 1999, to 10.1% in 2004 and 11.2% in 2017. Whilst emotional disorders have become more common in this age group (4.3% 1999, 3.9% 2004, 5.8% 2017), all other types of disorder have remained relatively stable.

Fig. 2

Mindfulness - Increase in Mental Disorders

Around one in ten 5 to 10 year old children had at least one disorder, equating to roughly three children in every classroom. About one in thirty met the criteria for two or more mental disorders. Behavioural disorders (5.0%) and emotional disorders (4.1%) were the most common types in this age group.

At this age, the number of boys (4.6%) and girls (3.6%) with emotional disorders was similar. However, other types of disorder were more than twice as likely in boys. For example, 2.6% of 5 to 10-year-old boys were identified with hyperactivity disorder, compared with 0.8% of 5 to 10-year-old girls.

Fig. 3

Mindfulness - Primary Age Mental Disorders

Children with a disorder are more likely to have poor general health, a limiting long-term illness, a physical or developmental problem, or a special educational need.

  • Nearly three-quarters (71.7%) had a physical condition or developmental problem
  • A quarter (25.9%) had a limiting long-term illness compared to 4.2% of children without a mental disorder
  • A third (35.6%) had recognized special educational needs, compared with 6.1% of children without a mental disorder

Sometimes these health conditions and impairments are additional to a child’s mental disorder, sometimes they were a part of or a symptom of the mental disorder.

Fig. 4

Mindfulness - Mental Disorders and Physical Health

Mental health problems are prevalent, with one in ten primary aged children having a mental disorder. This means that there are roughly three pupils in every classroom with a diagnosable mental health issue.

So, can mindfulness in the classroom help these pupils?

Can Mindfulness Help?

According to mentalhealth.org.uk: ‘Mindfulness exercises are ways of paying attention to the present moment, using techniques like meditation, breathing, and yoga. Training helps people to become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and body sensations so that instead of being overwhelmed by them, they are better able to manage them’.

‘Mindfulness is recommended as a treatment for people with mental ill-health as well as those who want to improve their mental health and wellbeing … There are also different sorts of mindfulness meditation which can help people in different ways. Evidence shows compelling support for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which helps people to cope with stress, and for Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which is designed to help people with recurring depression. They provide a flexible set of skills to manage mental health and support wellbeing’.

There is also evidence showing mindfulness to be effective for children and young people, with school-based interventions having positive outcomes on wellbeing, reducing anxiety and distress as well as improving behaviour. Evidence also suggests that children who used mindfulness practices more frequently reported higher wellbeing and lower stress scores (W Kuyken et al, “Effectiveness of the Mindfulness in Schools Programme: non-randomised controlled feasibility study”, 2013).

So, there is evidence that mindfulness can help people to prevent recurrent mental health disorders and cope with anxiety should it arise. In fact, NICE recommends it as a preventative practice for those suffering from depression.

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